tv Maria Hinojosa One-on- One PBS October 29, 2016 4:00pm-4:31pm PDT
>> hinojosa: his 1998 film smoke signals wowed sundance and became an indie sensation. since then, he's devoted himself to making movies that give today's native americans a voice-- award-winning filmmaker chris eyre. i'm maria hinojosa, this is one on one. chris eyre, you are the most well-known native american film director in the united states. welcome to our show. >> it's great to be here; awesome. >> hinojosa: but let me ask you something. when people introduce you like that, are you kind of like, "okay, i am native american and i'm a film director, but," you know, "i can be both things and separate things at the same
time"? >> yeah, i mean, it's awkward for me, just because, you know, as a person, i hate to wear that, even though some people identify that. but it's good to make work; i mean, that's what it comes down to. it's good to make work, and for me, it's just as an artist-- not as a native person or an american person, but as an artist-- it's important to make things that kind of explore, you know, who we are as americans, who i am as a native american, what tribalism means, and so that's all just, you know, part of it. >> hinojosa: you, though... the film that everybody has seen-- smoke signals-- was extraordinary, because it was the first feature film directed by a native american director that made it to national release. had a huge following; in fact, you said that the film kind of went on and on and on... >> yeah. >> hinojosa: ...for a long time. what was the impact of smoke signals, now that you stand back and kind of look at it? >> you know, the funny thing is that myself and sherman alexie,
the writer of smoke signals, you know, were dreaming about making this movie that would somehow catch fire, and next thing you know, it... it caught fire and it hit. and ten years later, it's still the movie that i'm best known for, and i think it's because, you know, when you have a "coming out" type of, you know, party or whatever it might be, that's what people, you know, really see. i mean, i've made five or six movies since then, and done television-- like law and order and friday night lights, but people still remember smoke signals. and i think the lasting effect of that movie was that it was another land marker in native cinema-- if there is such a thing. you know, in the early 1990's, when dances with wolves came out, it taught a whole generation of native actors that they wanted to be performers in the industry. and with smoke signals in 1998,
what happened was-- at least what i'm seeing now-- is that there's a generation of native american men and women that are saying, "we are filmmakers, we are directors, we are writers, we are producers." >> hinojosa: so you... so really, smoke signals has changed the idea of native americans and filmmaking. >> i think so. >> hinojosa: since smoke signals, yeah. >> you know, elizabeth weatherford, who's the director of the film/video center at the national museum of the american indian in new york city pulled me aside-- i was there for a film festival this past march-- and she said, you know, "20 years ago when i started, 90% of the content that they were programming was made by non-indians." and she said, "now, 90% of it that we're programming is made by native americans, and a lot of them are in their 20's..." >> hinojosa: wow. >> "...and their 30's." >> hinojosa: that must be so exciting for you. >> it's wonderful to see, because it's not about the loin
cloths; it's not about the historical portrayals of native people. >> hinojosa: in fact, you actually had a term for this: "leathers and feathers"? >> "leathers and feathers." it's not my term; it's been coined before. but you know, i mean, you know, you take these wonderful actors and you put them in loin cloths and feathers and have them running and doing all sorts of stuff, and that's wonderful, but that's a staple of american cinema that is always going to exist. and for me and this generation of young native filmmakers, what's important is to do the things that hollywood can't do. >> hinojosa: which is to... >> and that is to portray contemporary native people today. i mean, you know, there's things like... >> hinojosa: and not this idealized... idealized form. you basically are like, "look, it's not all pretty out there." >> well, i mean, you know, i remember just a few years ago going to powwows and seeing an 18-year-old indian kid drive up
in a hummer. and you say, "what?" the world's changing, you know? and it was because of, you know, casinos, and... >> hinojosa: and you've actually... you actually think that the gaming and casinos for the tribes are a good thing. >> i think they're absolutely a good thing. you know, the thing to remember about that is that they're all about location. so i mean, in southern california you have great gaming that's going on, and then the northeast-- you know, connecticut and new york, and... >> hinojosa: but is there a part of you that kind of... i was wondering how you deal with any anger that you have. i mean, let's be clear. you were born cheyenne arapaho... >> uh-huh. >> hinojosa: ...you were adopted... >> mm-hmm. >> hinojosa: ...actually, by a white family, and raised in oregon, and even, interestingly, that adoption was essentially considered, like, an international adoption, right? because you were leaving the reservation and going into another state.
>> yeah, i mean, you deal with anger through your work, you deal with anger through your humor, you deal with anger... you know, sometimes by yourself. but it's all about the artist. it's about, you know, the artist. i mean, i could've been a musician or a sculptor or an actor, and it was just about the vehicle to, you know, get some of that stuff worked through and get some of that stuff out, so... >> hinojosa: so did you have a lot of anger? do you have a lot of anger? i mean, when i just look at statistics about the native american reality in our country, i get angry. i mean, alcoholism, drug abuse, poverty, lack of education. and it's like, these are the original people from this land. how can this be happening? and if i've got that anger and i'm not native... >> yeah, yeah. >> hinojosa: ...i wonder what you do.
>> you be positive, you know? i mean, you be positive; i mean, that's what you do. and that's really all you can do. you know, everybody has their politics, and at a certain point, you have to shut that off and you have to be, and you have to love, and you have to live, and you can't always be political. and with indian country-- and i know this with native people in particular-- it is all-consuming sometimes, you know? with people's economics on reservations, with people's social conflicts, and with the fact that on pine ridge, you know, sometimes people are seen as "the indians" or "the icons" or the "romantic tragedy." and that gets to be a little much for anybody. so i mean, ultimately, it's about, you know, finding yourself and finding, you know, your love for yourself, and moving forward. >> hinojosa: so when you were
growing up, did you think, "hmm, i want to become a film director; this is something i could do"? because you weren't seeing a lot of images of native americans, period. >> well, i mean, when i was young, my mother-- who is wonderful-- always said, "you're a cheyenne and arapaho." and you know, it goes over your head, you know? >> hinojosa: oh, you were like, "yeah?" >> "yeah, let me, like, go on the jungle gym," you know? >> hinojosa: ( laughing ) >> but at some point, you know, when i turned 18, i started to say, "now, what does that mean?" >> hinojosa: so it wasn't until you were 18... >> well, interestingly enough... >> hinojosa: and your mom was... your mom, again, was white american, because she adopted you. >> right. >> hinojosa: so... >> when i was in high school, the native kids and i always were connected, because they didn't know i was adopted. and i was even beat up by some of the indian kids because they thought i was one of them, which is a real, you know? a real... >> hinojosa: "you're one of us; we're going to..."
>> ...strange, yeah... a real strange... >> hinojosa: "...beat you up," okay. >> ...strange perception of things. but, you know, i mean, if i would've been far enough apart from them, i wouldn't have ever been in those situations. but i was actually, you know, in the title iv indian education program in my high school, and met a lot of, you know, other native students that were klamath and modocs, and you know, most of them never knew that i was adopted. and once i left high school, i took my camera, which i'd, you know, learned to do photography in high school, and i started taking pictures. and what i didn't know a the time was i was searching for that history. and as i took more and more pictures, i was starting to find out, you know, who i was, and i eventually met my mother-- my birth mother, rose-- in 1995, and i met my biological grandmother, who lived with...
>> hinojosa: so they were... so your biological mom and your biological grandma were on the res? >> they were living, at the time, in kelso, washington, which is above portland, but had been in warm springs reservation for years, and... >> hinojosa: had you... were you going to reservations while you were a kid? >> i went to a little bit of reservations, but not a lot. klamath falls doesn't have a reservation. it was terminated... the klamath tribe was terminated, i think, in 1956, and then they got reinstated as a tribe in the 1980's. but, you know, growing up in that kind of community and place, i remember when the indians received money in the 1970's, and you know, everybody talked about how, you know, they were just spending it wildly, and you know, going on these crazy binges. and indians were perceived as this, you know, this thing. and so, you know, i had this vantage point where i would look on both sides of things quite a bit.
>> hinojosa: kind of like insider/outsider perspective. >> insider/outsider, yeah, like america. >> hinojosa: so you end up going to film school at nyu. >> uh-huh. >> hinojosa: and you spent a chunk of time living in new york, and after smoke signals came out, you had another great success with another wonderful movie called edge of america, about an african american basketball coach who ends up working on a res... >> yeah. >> hinojosa: ...and this whole, kind of relationship; african american/native, which was fascinating. >> yeah. >> hinojosa: but now you live in south dakota, and this is your base-- south dakota is your base... >> yeah. >> hinojosa: you made a decision to be in a place like south dakota, as opposed to-- and you could have. you could have been in new york, you could have been in hollywood... >> yeah. >> hinojosa: why? >> because, basically, i wanted to be around, you know, northern plains native american americana. >> hinojosa: because as a film director, for you it's essential
to stay in touch with that reality? >> it's... yeah, it's essential for me to stay in the culture, and learn about the culture all my life, because i was apart from it. >> hinojosa: and what you see-- again, because a lot of americans i feel like, you know, they don't go onto the res; they don't have a lot of reason to go onto the res-- so we have these images of native american... the native american population, that is... it's just kind of flat, you know? you... your home... all of your movies are about, "let me tell you about what's really happening." and these kids, for example, in the movie smoke signals-- victor and... the other... >> victor, joseph... i'm even like, i'm pulling it out from 10 years ago... >> hinojosa: well, because i just watched smoke signals. but those characters-- these young native american kids who are kind of... one of them's kind of dorky... >> yeah. >> hinojosa: ...the other one's
very angry... >> yeah. >> hinojosa: but you're basically saying, "look, they're... they're american kids, now." >> yeah. >> hinojosa: right? i mean, there's a lot of them that's just... >> well, i mean, there's... there's that whole thing. i mean, sherman alexie wrote a wonderfully funny screenplay in smoke signals, and the important thing, you know, to see is that, you know, you go to places like pine ridge, which, you know, i have ties to through my daughter, and you see the poverty and you see the wrecked cars, and you see all the iconic things that are in movies about native people, but the thing that you don't see is the wealth of the spirit, and the love, and the humor, and the community. and those are the things that really make up america, i mean, whether it be native american, or whether it be african american, or whether it be, you know, the suburbs of greenwich, connecticut. it's not about the façades in the front of the house; it's
about, you know, the love and the laughter and the communities that live within them. and those are the things that, in my movies, i try and, you know, show and i try and portray. and sherman and i hit with smoke signals, and hopefully edge of america, is, you know, we don't want the façades-- we want to see what's inside. >> hinojosa: so is hollywood receptive to that? >> i think, more and more, hollywood's receptive to it. you know, edge of america, which came out in 2004, was about an african-american teacher who came to the res and started to teach. and when i got the script, i was looking at it and i thought, "this is really interesting." it was written by willy holtzman, and i said, "i've never seen a movie about african americans and native americans." and, you know, in the 120 years of movies, you're sitting there going, "huh?" i mean, does that... that far... >> hinojosa: but how hard was that movie to make? i mean, when you show up in a hollywood executive office, and
you're like, "we've got this script about an african american basketball coach who's going to go into a reservation," are their eyes just glazing over, or are they engaged? are they like, "you know what? there's an audience here." what's the reaction of these folks who you deal with? i don't know how you do it, but you deal with them. >> i think the reaction is kind of a glazed look sometimes... >> hinojosa: it happens, yeah. >> ...which is, "huh, now, how do i put that in that box or that hole," and you know, if it hasn't been put in that hole before or that, you know, square hasn't been put into that triangle, it's hard for people to make that leap, you know? >> hinojosa: so how do you do it? i mean, chris, you are so laid back; you're a very calm, clearly centered person. when you're in those meetings with those hollywood executives whose eyes are kind of glazing over... >> when their eyes glaze over, mine glaze over. >> hinojosa: yours glaze over. >> it's a mutual glaze. >> hinojosa: ( laughing ) but then the money doesn't happen and the movie might not get made. >> no, i tease, but it's... ultimately, you know, it's, you
know, they get made. they'll get made somewhere. they happen. i mean, and you know, that's what i'm about is just slowly making a body of work. we shall remain is a great series that has been on pbs recently, produced by wgbh... >> hinojosa: and you directed three of those series of we shall remain, which were amazing. there, you went into doing kind of historical documentary work-- very different than a narrative film. >> yeah. >> hinojosa: and i know that you were concerned about the images again, of "our we going to be, you know, again putting the native people into this little box?" what kind of challenges did it raise for you? >> well, i mean the first thing was when i got a call from sharon grimberg and mark samuels. it was like, "okay, i've never done a historical native piece," and i said, "now, what's going to make this different?" you know, for me, you know, whenever you see these scripts about native people in historical terms, you read the
script and at the end, the indians die. and i say, "well," you know, "what's the difference here?" they're interchangeable; it's like the seminoles, the cherokees, the lakotas, the navajos, you know? you know, whoever it might be, at the end, they... you know, that's the hollywood version of indians in movies. and so i said, you know, "what's different about this?" and what's different about it is that, you know, we went, you know, inside the house. we actually showed wes studi, you know, as a slave owner, which is not a great moment in cherokee history. but it's inside where we're seeing something we haven't ever seen before. and when i'm shooting the scene with wes studi riding a horse, and he comes down and he's talking to his slaves in cherokee, i say to myself, "this has never been seen before, filmically, i don't think." and so it's those images-- you know, the good, the bad, the ugly, the humorous-- that, you
know, as native people, i want to pull back and start to see, you know? and we shall remain really took some strides in showing something different about native people. >> hinojosa: were you surprised when you got that call to have you direct that kind of a film? >> i'm always surprised when i get a call! ( laughter ) >> hinojosa: really? >> yeah, i mean, you know, like i said, i've done friday night lights for nbc and law and order, and... >> hinojosa: and law and order is actually important, because the actor from smoke signals who was young at the time of smoke signals, adam beach... >> adam beach, yeah. >> hinojosa: ...had a long run on law and order: svu, i guess? >> long run, yeah, yeah. well, i mean, he did, i think, 22 episodes or something like that. >> hinojosa: that's pretty wonderful, i mean, were you happy to see him out there? >> you know, we all, as native actors and people in the film community, any time somebody makes a mainstream piece of work that isn't dependant on
"leathers and feathers," i mean, we all applaud it. it's a great stride. >> hinojosa: what are you thinking about next? you're working on a big project called the whale hunt, which is also going to be controversial... >> yeah. >> hinojosa: ...no matter what, because you're dealing with the hunting of whales; a traditional kind of custom. >> right, right. >> hinojosa: and you're talking about, you know, protecting a species. >> yeah. >> hinojosa: so where's the status... what is the status of your new movie the whale hunt? >> i'm hoping to make a whale hunt sometime soon. we had it at hbo and were developing it, and got passed over for bury my heart at wounded knee, which is a "leather and feather" type movie. a whale hunt is based on a true story that took place in 1999. the makah tribe in northwestern washington state decided, after 80 years, they were going to go hunt a gray whale traditionally in a dug out cedar canoe with a
whaling team, and bring it back to the community and hold their ceremonies like they did for hundreds of years, after the gray whale came off the endangered species list-- and they did. >> hinojosa: it was... it's actually a true story. i remember hearing about it. >> it's an amazing story. you know, people came out of the woodwork and said, "you can't kill a gray whale," and they said, "it's off the endangered species list." they have the right under the 1856 treaty they signed with the u.s. to hunt in perpetuity-- to hunt forever-- their traditional way. and because it came off the endangered species list, they felt like it was a renaissance of their culture and something that their people needed to do, and they went out and they did it. and you know, greenpeace and... >> hinojosa: huge protests. >> ...all these people showed up. interesting thing is is that they took one gray whale in
1999, and i went up the coast to barrow, alaska, with the inupiat one year and saw a traditional whale hunt up there, and they're allowed to take up to 22 a year up there. people don't know about that... >> hinojosa: yeah. >> ...so i probably shouldn't be saying this on tv. >> hinojosa: ( laughing ) they're going to know now. >> but it's not... it's a matter of proximity. i mean, i guess it's okay to take 22 whale up there for a traditional culture, but it's not okay to take one near seattle, you know, for a traditional culture. >> hinojosa: so... >> which is strange. >> hinojosa: so when people say to you, "oh, you know"-- not knowing that you are a film director, but they know that you're native-- and they're like, "you know that movie dances with wolves; that was so great!" >> yeah. >> hinojosa: and you say... >> i say, "yeah!" i love the movie. >> hinojosa: you did. >> i mean, yeah, there's different ways to look at it. like i said, i mean, as a native person, you know, you can't always be, you know, in a political place.
>> hinojosa: so you loved it. >> as entertainment, it's great, you know? entertainment is entertainment, you know? and for me, being, you know, the adoptee, it's like... it's always just that matter of, you know? for lack of a better word, you know, you walk in two places quite a bit, you know? >> hinojosa: so if you had control of a hollywood studio, what would be the kinds of movies that you would be making that deal with native issues? >> i would make contemporary movies. i'd make movies about native people today that aren't about us in the past, and that show who we are, you know, as healthy, progressive, beautiful people. >> hinojosa: in fact, one... there was a moment that you told this story about you were at a conference, and somebody said, "i like those images that i saw in the old movies; they made me want to be an american indian." and then you were like, "yeah, well, what about crackers and spam? that's what it's kind of... that's what's happening now." >> yeah, you know the romantic, with the feathers and horses and all that stuff, that's wonderful, but, you know, who wants to be an indian eating
spam and commodity cheese on the reservation? >> hinojosa: and yet, everybody... >> and i guess i do. >> hinojosa: ( laughing ) and yet, everybody on those... on the reservations, are they watching all of the... they're watching television, right? >> yeah. >> hinojosa: but they just never see themselves reflected on primetime. >> i make jokes. i say, you know, "why don't we ever get to be in a mcdonald's commercial, or a wal-mart commercial?" and you know, i joke around about that stuff, but you know, i mean, we'd have to be in, like, you know, thomas builds-the-fire attire with, you know, the braids for them to say demographically, "okay, there's an indian that we wanted in this mcdonald's spot so we could market to the indians." and in reality, it's like, you know, a lot of times i have native friends who don't have their hair long, and everybody says that they're, you know, from somewhere else-- somewhere else in the world-- and they're, you know, immigrants here, or, you know? and you know, that's not a bad thing, but the fact of the
matter is that our understanding of who we are as americans is so narrow. >> hinojosa: do you think it's changing, though? do you... >> it's changing; it's definitely changing. >> hinojosa: so finally, for young people; young, native-- well, maybe they're directors, maybe they're actors-- what do you say to them? where... what do you say to them when they're like, "god, the doors are closing on me all the time. i can't get the meetings. they don't get my scripts. i'm entirely frustrated," and you say... >> i say, "just do it, and do it, and do it, and do it." and that's basically what i've tried to do, which is, you know, you're not going to change the world through one movie, you're not going to change the world through one story, but i believe stories do change the world, humor changes the world, love changes the world, and it's about making a body of work and exploring different stories. >> hinojosa: but if they're saying, "dude, i'm making a
movie, but it's like not ending up anywhere. no one's seeing it, and i'm running out of money." >> yeah. it's harder for females to become directors than it is for, you know, a minority, and i remind, you know, native people all the time, it's like, it can be difficult. you just got to get up and do it. >> hinojosa: and thanks for doing it. chris eyre, we really appreciate your stories and for coming to see us. >> thanks for having me. >> hinojosa: good luck on the next film. >> awesome. >> hinojosa: thank you. continue the conversation at wgbh.org/oneonone. captioned by media access group at wgbh access.wgbh.org
- [announcer] funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation and hillco partners, a texas government affairs consultancy, and by klru's producer circle, ensuring local programming that reflects the character and interests of the greater austin, texas community. - i'm evan smith. he's a former cia officer, investment banker, and congressional staffer, running as an independent candidate for president of the united states in 2016. he's evan mcmullin. this is overheard. (audience applauds) - [evan smith voiceover] let's be honest. is this about the ability to learn, or is this about the experience of not having been taught properly? how have you avoided what has befallen other nations in africa and elsewhere? you could say that he made his own bed, but you caused him to sleep in it. you know, you saw a problem, and over time took it on. let's start with the sizzle before we get to the steak. are you gonna run for president?